Miss America Betty Maxwell

Miss America Betty Maxwell: ‘Let Go and Let God’

John FarrellBy John Farrell23 Minutes

JF: I remember growing up and walking the down the street with my friends to go play in the woods and my parents wouldn’t think anything of it as long as I was home by sundown. Nowadays, with everything that’s going on, you have to be alert all the time.

Betty: That’s what I saw watching “The Andy Griffith Show” with Opie. It was such a different time. We’re so far away from that in today’s world. It’s sad.

JF: Absolutely! On a slightly different topic, how did you get into modeling?

Betty: It was actually kind of random. I’ve always been interested in modeling, but it wasn’t my career goal. My career goals have always been focused on singing and acting. When I went to audition for the talent agency in Atlanta that I’m with now, they were like, “Okay, thank you so much. We’re going to think about it. Have you thought about modeling at all?”

They had a modeling agency in house, in the same building. I was like, “I’m fine with modeling. I’m not going to turn down a modeling gig, but that’s not what I came here for. But absolutely, I’m interested.” They were like, “We think you’d be perfect for that, so why don’t you head down to the modeling agency and introduce yourself to them and see what happens.” I ended up getting signed by both agencies — the acting agency and the modeling agency. It was kind of a fluke, but I’m so happy about it because I really enjoy it. Anything in the arts I really enjoy.

I just feel very blessed that I’m in the situation that I’m in where I’m getting to pursue so many different passions of mine.

JF: You performed an operatic song during the Miss America competition. When did you get into opera singing and acting? And what acting have you done?

Betty: I’ve been singing since the age of three, but I started taking classical voice lessons when I was 14. I took classical voice all through high school and college. When it came time to get ready for Miss Georgia first and then Miss America, I was working with a coach in Atlanta who heard me sing my opera and he was like, “You don’t need to sing anything else. You need to sing opera for these competitions.” I was like, “Okay, you know best.”

I ended up singing the Italian aria “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio” from “Madame Butterfly” at Miss Georgia. Then I sang that same piece at Miss America. I won the prelim talent award at Miss Georgia and Miss America, which is really cool. That was really all the validation that I needed. Winning was just extra, but I really was more interested in how I performed and my talent piece because that was part of my career goals. That was really important to me and meant so much to me.

In high school I was always in the one-act plays and in the spring musicals. Acting has always been something I’ve loved. Singing and acting together in the musicals was just amazing. That was my passion. I loved that.

Right after my year as Miss America, Spencer and I — he was my fiance at the time — moved to Nashville and that’s when I recorded my country music album called “Nicotine.” Right after my album came out, I started getting a lot of opportunities coming out of the Atlanta area. That’s when we decided to move back to Atlanta and I saw an opportunity to audition for this acting agency.

For the most part, I had only ever done stage acting and theater so television and movies was a completely different rodeo for me. But I love acting and I was absolutely not gonna pass up an opportunity to be with an agency, especially because Atlanta is the hub right now for movies and television. That is really such a huge blessing because now I don’t have to move out to LA.

Last year I actually got my first part in a SAG film. I was a supporting role in a movie called Game Changer, which is coming out this year. So, I’m really excited about that.

JF: How cool.

Betty: Yeah, the acting gig has really been going great. It’s such a waiting game. The fine arts and this whole entertainment industry is such a waiting game and you have to build up your opportunities and build up that resume. Everything you do is just one step closer.

The cool thing about it is you never know what role is going to be that one role or what audition is going to be that one audition that sets your career on fire. You just never know and I find that really exciting and exhilarating about the entertainment business, singing, and acting. You just never know what’s going to be that one thing that’s going to send you through the roof. So, I’m really excited about my future in this industry.

JF: Kind of fast-forwarding a couple of years to when you were competing for Miss America. What was running through your head when it got down to the finalists and they announced your name as Miss America?

Betty: Oh my gosh! That was one of the questions I was asked the most right after I won, “What was going through your head?” And that was always one of the hardest questions to answer because when I was standing there with the other two as the final three, the three of us were just standing there waiting to hear whose name was going to be called.

I was praying the whole time. I’m standing there praying and in my prayer I tried to make it an unselfish prayer. Not like “Please God, let it be me. Please God, let it be me.” It was more like a prayer of “Please God, if this is Your will for me, let it be.” And I don’t know if that was me trying to be strategic with God and with my prayers of, “Hey, look, I’m not being selfish here, but if I win, that would be great.” But at the same time, I didn’t want to win if it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want this incredible, humongous, outrageous opportunity to go to anybody but the person who deserved it. So I just prayed, “God, please let this be your will for me. And if not, that’s okay.”

I went into this with the mindset of if I don’t win, I’m still going to be fine. If I don’t win, that’s okay. I’m going to be fine. This was an incredible, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m just so happy that I even get to be here. I went into the whole process with zero expectations and a lot of faith and a lot of hope. So, when they did finally call out my name, I really felt that it was meant to be me. I felt like it was meant for me in that moment because I knew it wouldn’t have happened to me unless it was absolutely supposed to happen to me.

I knew that from all my prayers and my relationship with God and my faith — and this sounds really crazy — but I’ve always felt that I was special in a way. And that’s not just because my mom always told me “I’m special.” All our moms tell us that we’re special. I’ve always been very in tune with myself and my faith, especially in recent years. I don’t expect things to happen to me. I just let go and let God.

So, in this moment when I was chosen for such an incredible humbling opportunity, all I could do was just be so thankful. If you watch the video of when they called my name out, all I can say is just “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to the judges and thank you to God.” I knew that any girl on that stage would have been such a perfect Miss America — a perfect role model, a perfect example. Really, I was just so honored to be chosen to represent my class at Miss America and represent my state of Georgia. It was really a very humbling opportunity and I’m forever thankful.

JF: So, there was no blackout moment like what happened to Miss America 2017?

Betty: Honestly, I feel like, yeah, for a moment, when you’re just standing there freaking out that they called your name. There is like a moment of blackout where you don’t know what emotions are coming over you and you kind of lose control of your body. I almost fell over. It’s just this incredible feeling.

So yeah, I think there’s a moment where you kind of blackout, but I feel like I was very aware from that moment on for the next like two minutes of what was happening. I remember taking that first step out onto the runway where Miss America takes her first walk as Miss America. I remember vividly thinking, “My life has just changed forever.”

As I took that first step on the runway, I said it in my head, “My life will never be the same.” I remember soaking in that moment, trying so hard to soak it in so that I would be able to remember the glory of that moment. Walking down that runway and everyone’s cheering for you. It’s just this overwhelming experience. And then you see your parents down at the end of the runway. I mean, it is incredible. So, I really do remember it very vividly and I tried really hard to soak in that moment.

JF: Can you provide a little snapshot of what the day was like leading up to that moment? Were there a lot of commitments that you all had to meet or was it more relaxing and rehearsal?

Betty: We were actually in Atlantic City for two weeks. The first week that we’re there is all events, appearances, and lots of media coverage. We’re doing all kinds of sponsored events and everything. And then of course rehearsals and stuff. The second week is when the preliminary competition starts. So you’re much more serious, much more in competition mode in the second week.

Then there are three nights of preliminary competition. At the beginning of the week you do your private interviews with the judges, followed by three nights of preliminary competitions. After the three preliminary nights, there were two days of no competition. There was a “Show Me Your Shoes” parade.

I’m trying to remember what happened on the other day. I guess the other day was just the dress rehearsal. So, there’s the “Show Me Your Shoes” parade, which is a huge tradition. Then the dress rehearsal for the final night where we work with the production team to learn how the live telecast is going to work because it’s all live. It’s a big deal.

That rehearsal day we are just exhausted. I remember at that time, during the two weeks that we were there, that day we were all dragging. The girls were laying all over the stage with blankets and pillows because they were like, “It’s going to be cold in the theater. You’re in the auditorium, so you’ll need to bring sweats, you need to bring blankets, pillows, whatever. You’re going to be tired.” So, we’re laid out all over the place and they’re trying to teach us what we need to do and we’re just exhausted.

But that day right before the final night was just really a day of exhaustion. Learning how the live telecast is going to work, where we needed to move on stage if we’re top 12, top 10, and so on. It was just an exhausting day of rehearsals the day before.

JF: As you hinted at before, your year as Miss America wasn’t all roses and not what you expected it to be. How did your faith help you confront and overcome some of those more difficult times during that year?

Betty: Being Miss America — I’ve always said this and I feel like every Miss America says this at some point — is honestly one of the loneliest jobs. You are whisked away from your family and friends and everything familiar to you for a whole year. You go from being a regular person to a celebrity on red carpets, on national news. You have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. It is really just a flip of your life.

I was on a plane pretty much every two days. You’re traveling with just your tour manager. That’s it. You and your tour manager. It’s not this whole team or security team. It’s just the two of you. You spend every single night in a hotel room and you’re changing locations about every two days.

Every location I ended up at, I did an event. I gave a keynote speech or had some sort of speaking engagement. I’m a singer and any Miss America who sings also performs their talent. Not necessarily the talent they performed at Miss America, but they just performed. I usually performed one or two songs, sometimes three, given the event, as well as speaking. After that I would do some sort of meet and greet or just whatever the event required.

Every event was different, but at every single event I was speaking, singing, and meeting and greeting people. So, every single day, you just have to be so on it. You have to be so turned on. You have to be so ready to go. You have to be Miss America. When that crown goes on your head, that persona comes up. And not to say that I’m not the same person when I took the crown off at the end of the day as I am with the crown on, but it’s like this feeling that you can take a breath and relax when that crown comes off your head at the end of the day. But that being said, you’re basically by yourself. It’s you and your tour manager.

I stayed in my hotel room by myself. I ate a room service meal by myself every night. Then headed to the airport again and the constant pressure to look and be Miss America every single day and everywhere you go and give a perfect speech, perform to the best of your abilities. You don’t take sick days. There are no sick days. No, no, no. With all of that being said, there’s so much pressure and it’s so hard, but it’s so lonely.

Even when I had events in Georgia, I couldn’t stay at home. I wasn’t allowed to go home. I had to stay at my hotel. It’s very lonely and very easy to get into this dark or depressed place in your head when you’re doing the same routine every single day and being expected to be perfect every single day and you’re just by yourself. I really had to lean on my faith a lot that year in order to get through that because I had nobody else. I was completely alone.

I had no one else that I could cry on or lean on during this time. Obviously, I talked to my husband now/boyfriend at the time, Spencer, and he and I talked and face-timed every single day. He obviously helped me so much to get through that year. But my faith was there for me when nothing else was. When I had nobody else. When I had no other option and nowhere to turn. When I was dealing with bad press or anything that came along with the job, my faith was what I was able to lean on. I really feel like if I hadn’t had my faith, I would not have been able to get through that year.

There were days where I was like, “Okay, how many months are left? How many months until this year is done?” Because you’re just so exhausted, so utterly tired, and you just want to sleep. You just want to go crawl in your own bed at home just to get a vacation. Anything. But no, it really is a 365-day job. I just remember so vividly being so alone and so tired and all I had was my faith. So that definitely is what got me through it.

Order your copy of Miss Unlikely: From Farm Girl to Miss America by Betty Maxwell

Photo Credit: The USO / 2016 Vice Chairman USO Tour / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0